CHILDMINDING is never easy for a parent, what more a grandparent. Sometimes, the young charges can turn a house upside down – imagine boisterious young children running around the place, or starting a fight.
Noise aside, elderly parents can feel “tied down” by having to care for the next generation. They may get some money monthly for their “services”. Or, those whose children can afford it may hire a live-in maid to help with the chores.
Retired administration executive Ong Keong Chee of Petaling Jaya, Selangor, has three grandchildren. He and his wife, Mak Yuet Ching, used to look after their eldest daughter’s child, Kua Ai Wen, during the day for four years when she was in kindergarten. The girl is now in Form One.
Presently, their charge is youngest grandson Brian, whose father is their youngest son. “He is well-behaved,” says Ong, 72, of the nine-year-old.
This senior couple has an Indonesian maid to handle the household chores. Brian’s father works in Cyberjaya and his mother, Kuala Lumpur.
On weekdays, Brian’s father drops him at school and grandpa picks him up after classes. The boy goes home with his parents after dinner.
Every Friday morning, Ong goes to a centre near his home which organises activities for senior citizens. He spends about 90 minutes there before starting his chauffeuring duties. Besides driving, he also helps Brian with his Maths and Science homework. In turn, the boy teaches him to play games on Facebook.
“Taking care of him can be fun. It’s like having someone making some noise in the house. But it can be stressful when we get caught in a traffic jam while taking him out,” says Ong, who admits the responsibility does bog him and his wife down occasionally as they cannot go out as often as they wish.
He has had to “give up” his afternoon tea to ferry Brian for activities and tuition. So weekends are precious for him and Mak as they get to do their own thing.
“Hurrah for weekends and public holidays,” says Ong, who usually goes out to shop and eat with his wife.
Caring for the grandchildren can forge closer ties between the generations, says Mak, 65, adding that Ai Wen, who lives with her parents in Subang Jaya, still visits regularly.
Retiree Patsy Gan of Kelana Jaya, Selangor, minds two toddlers five days a week. “It’s not a problem” as she schedules her time around her young charges.
Gan, 62, jokes that once in a while, they will “test their vocals”. That’s when she has to think up ways to divert their attention.
She cares for granddaughter Marissa Ng, who is 14 months old, and a friend’s baby, Cheryl Ma, who is two months older. Marissa stays over daily but goes home to her parents during the weekend. Cheryl only comes for daycare.
Gan, whose husband died in 1992, has three sons aged between 34 and 27; the eldest is Marissa’s father. She used to work as an announcer (of flight arrivals and departures) at Subang Airport in Selangor before becoming a duty officer for 35 years, prior to her retirement in 2005.
“It was my first interview and my first job,” she says with pride.
Two years after that, she served as a nanny in London for six months, caring for the one-year-old son of a friend who was preparing to return to work.
Nowadays, she is happy to be “gainfully employed” again.
“Babysitting allows me to stay home, take care of the house and make good use of my time. After all, how much can you shop?”
On the minus side, she knows too well the stress of handling fussy or too-demanding parents. To avoid any problems, she sets out certain conditions so that “both parties can be happy”.
Much as she likes the job of caring for young ones, she also looks forward to her weekly breaks.
“On Saturdays and Sundays, I will drive myself places and go shopping for groceries or walk around the shopping malls. Sometimes, I’ll meet up with ex-colleagues.”
If she has more time off from babysitting, she will join tours organised by a club for senior citizens. “Actually, weekends are not enough!” quips Gan, who also enjoys cooking and karaoke sessions.